Finding an apartment in Provo was never a big deal: I seemed to stumble into housing situations, or, more accurately, I seemed to rely on others to choose housing situations for me, and since I rarely notice things like low ceilings, ugly carpets, and broken dryers, and since I lived in the library anyway, that system worked, I thought, quite well. I still think fondly, and not without amusement, on January 2005, when I returned to Provo from Egypt and started classes with no winter clothes, no school supplies or textbooks, and no apartment. One afternoon after phonetics class, I called three apartments, walked two blocks to one of them, signed a lease, and moved in. That was that.
I should have known that the Berkeley housing market was not like the Provo one when the secretary of my new department sent around an email to all incoming graduate students warning us that “the biggest worry and nuisance facing you is probably housing.” This over, say, registering for classes, choosing an advisor, or financing a higher degree in a useless subject.
I, personally, would worry most about that whole where-is-my-next-meal-coming-from issue, but where-will-that-meal-be-cooked was also a pressing concern for me in my first weeks here, so I spent, as I’ve mentioned, entire days refreshing the Craigslist rentals page. I scrolled through what seemed like hundreds of ads for tiny, dark bedrooms in tiny, dark apartments, for which I would have to pay…well, a lot of money.
I was clearly not the only one willing to pay what seemed like the GDP of a small nation just for a 8’x8’ room; I very rarely got replies to my emails or phone calls, despite being, as far as I can tell, an ideal tenant. (I don’t drink, smoke, or do drugs. I’m quiet. I’m responsible. I can wash a dish. I’m a grad student, an advantage in a town crawling with undergrads. I even have a scholarship, so I can afford to rent a room, though not an apartment.) Yet I count, now, 29 unanswered emails in my inbox, and my cell phone bill shows 15 or so unreturned calls. Thanks, housing market. You can sure make a girl feel good.
I investigated nearly every response I got. After nearly two weeks of emailing, calling, and visiting, though, my roommate options were still slim: an awkward guy who, after showing me the apartment, asked if he could keep my number and call me sometime; an old Jewish lady who wasn’t sure if she could live with a Mormon; and a lovely lesbian couple renting out their guest room to make money for a baby.
Needless to say, I decided to keep looking. The lesbians, who seemed like the best option, lived farther from campus than I’d like, and I suspected I’d always feel slightly out of place in their charming Crate and Barrel-furnished home. The old lady was conspicuously lonely, and the awkward guy—well, I don’t really have to explain that one.
In the end, though, I found an apartment that is, basically, exactly what I was looking for. It’s three blocks to campus and downtown and four blocks to church. It’s surrounded by thrift stores and Indian sari shops, kitty-corner from an Indonesian restaurant, and has sixteen(!) bookstores within a mile of it. The rent is cheap, for Berkeley, which means I’m only paying twice what I did in Provo, instead of three or four times. I’ve only got one roommate, a very funny, very nice late-twenties Staples employee, and we get along swimmingly, at least so far.
But yes, there is a catch: it’s a one-bedroom apartment. And I have a roommate. Though I’ve sworn I’m not going to share a room again until I get married—and, depending on how loud a future husband snores, maybe not even then—and so I have done the logical thing. I have moved into the living room.
That’s right—I’m paying all that money for three walls, not four. I can’t use the door-hanging mirror I inherited from a cousin because I don’t have a door. And my roommate now, instead of knocking, can just stand in the kitchen and say, “Hello?” because I can hear her. I have, in essence, 75% of a room.
It’s not so bad, though. Turns out, that's plenty, if I've got bookstores around. And now, after a week of daily trips to Ikea for furniture and floor-to-ceiling curtains, and after a few days of unpacking, I am finally, officially, moved in. And it doesn’t look so bad. I've got a bed, a desk, a couple of bookcases, and curtains pretending to be a wall. Oh, and because the rent is so low, I've got money for my next meal, which will probably be Indonesian food. What more could a poor grad student want?